Browne was born in South Halifax, Vermont. After his high school education, Browne enlisted in the Forty-sixth Massachusetts Volunteers (1862–63).
He went on to study law in Rochester and Ann Arbor; edited the Lakeside Monthly (Chicago) (1869–74), The Alliance (1878–79), and The Dial (1880–1913), a semimonthly literary review. Browne was at the forefront of the 20th century intellectual and literary scene in Chicago, Illinois. A transplant from New England, Browne settled in Chicago in 1867 and founded the literary journal, The Dial, which was a revival of Margaret Fuller’s transcendental periodical and served as a venue for modernist literature. Browne found Chicago to be somewhat inhospitable to significant intellectual ventures, and sacrificed much of his own wealth in the pursuit of The Dial’s success. The magazine finally debuted in 1880, after Browne had worked in periodicals from the Western Monthly, Lakeside Monthly and the Chicago Alliance. In contrast to the first incarnations of The Dial, Browne’s endeavor was criticized for its apolitical and conservative content. Browne also attempted to establish an upscale bookstore, Browne’s Bookstore, in the Fine Arts Building. The store was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. However, he failed to attract consistent patronage, and closed the store after five years.